For Champion Dogs, the Traditional Sardi’s Feast Will ContinueBy JAMES BARRON
Updated, 9:41 p.m. | It had become a tradition: Every year, the winner of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show had lunch at Sardi’s, the theater district restaurant where the walls are lined with portraits of celebrities.
And every year, the tradition broke the health department’s rules against animals in restaurants. Even dog-world celebrities like the Westminster winner.
No one noticed until Wednesday afternoon, a couple of hours after this year’s winner, a Pekingese named Malachy, had diced chicken and rice on a platter.
The health department ’s initial position, reported by The New York Post, was that Malachy’s meal would be the last enjoyed by any prize-winning dog at Sardi’s.
That possibility prompted, among other things, a conversation between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley.
The health department did not want to create a tempest in a doggie dish. It did not want to set off a brouhaha like the one over the cat at the Algonquin Hotel or the one over the free cheese and crackers on the bar at Sardi’s itself. Both took action to avoid losing points on the health department’s restaurant inspections — the Algonquin by installing an electric fence to keep the cat from wandering where food was served; Sardi’s by making the cheese and crackers available only if customers asked (and charging as much as $5).
By Thursday morning, the health department had found a loophole that it hoped would defuse the dog-in-a-restaurant issue: a waiver from Dr. Farley.
“Whoever wins will get an exemption,” Mr. Bloomberg told reporters. Referring to Dr. Farley, he added, “He feels strongly, and I certainly support him, having dogs in restaurants and other pets is generally not sanitary and should not be done.”
David Frei, a spokesman for the Westminster Kennel Club, said he was pleased that the tradition would continue. He credited Howard Atlee, a longtime Broadway press agent who was the president of the New York Dog Fanciers’ Club in the late 1960s, with coming up with the idea of taking the winning dog to Sardi’s.
Mr. Atlee said it was just an addition to an existing ritual, a lunch for, among others, the best-in-show judges. “I said, ‘Where’s the best-in-show dog?’” he recalled. “I had Mr. Sardi” — who died in 2007 at 91 — “serve the piece of meat on a silver platter.”
Mr. Frei said that on Wednesday, Malachy made the rounds of television shows like the “Today” show and “The View” before being spirited into Sardi’s, not through the front door but through an adjacent office-building entrance. Malachy rode in a private elevator that opened on the second floor of the restaurant, which was off-limits to the matinee crowd downstairs.
“Malachy sat quietly in his crate while we ate,” Mr. Frei said. “The media showed up, we did the photo op and we hit the road.” Malachy had more appearances lined up.
V. Max Klimavicius, the president of Sardi’s, said he looked forward to welcoming next year’s winner, assuming permission is granted. “We are all about following the rules of City Hall and the health department,” he said. “If a waiver can be obtained, we’ll research that.”
Wednesday, February 22, 2012